Thursday, 18 August, 2022
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It’s Time to Get Recognition to 1971 Genocide in Bangladesh

Pradip Kumar Dutta

Fifty one years is a long time indeed. We, unfortunate Bangladeshis, could not properly raise the demand for the International Recognition to the 1971 Genocide, inflicted upon us by the ruling class and the armed forces of Pakistan. Of course, they were totally collaborated by almost the whole gamut of non- Bengali refugees (commonly known as Biharis) who fought along with All India Muslim League for the creation of a separate country for the Muslims of the subcontinent. They shifted mostly from Bihar and UP and also in lesser numbers from other areas of India to the two wings of Pakistan. The ones domiciled in East Pakistan (of course with a very few exceptions) understandably sided with the Pak authorities to prevent the birth of our beloved motherland, Bangladesh. A section of Bengalis who were staunch supporters of Muslim League, Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan Democratic Party and their allies were not lagging behind. Some of them made the highest quality of traitors and collaborators of the occupation Pakistan Army during our Great War of Liberation.

Most political parties of West Pakistan, led by Pakistan People's Party also rendered their support to the ruling military junta in carrying out the bloody Genocide on a part of their own country till that time.

   Genocide is defined as the intent to partly or wholly destroy a population (group of people) who are unified by religion, nationality, tribe, locality, race or ethnicity. Tools of Genocide are mass killings, violation of chastity of women folk, destroying property, looting, arson, driving people away from their homestead as refugees, conversion of people mostly children of a group into another group and such other heinous activities. These activities may be bracketed under crime against humanity and carrying out such activities during a battle or war (as in the case of our War of Independence in 1971) tantamount to War crimes. As is well known to us, under the UN convention, Genocide is a punishable crime. Readers may note that all the brutal acts mentioned above were carried out by the heinous Pak army and their cronies during 1971 Bangladesh War of Liberation. Unfortunately, the demand for International Recognition of the same by the UN, other world bodies and individual States could not be properly raised during this long period. Though patriotic, self-respecting individuals and certain organizations had always been working towards this goal, the efforts fell short of a well-orchestrated forceful demand that could make some headway. There were multi-dimensional reasons why it could not be mastered, but let us not go deeper into it. Rather we will try to get consoled by the fact that many cases of genocide took much more time to attract sympathy of the world. An example at hand is Armenian Genocide that took over a century to achieve International recognition, albeit partially.

However, there were some others like Rwandan and Cambodian genocides that got recognition pretty quickly. The genocides in erstwhile Yugoslavia also could draw International attention promptly. Some Serb generals guilty of war crimes were tried in the International Court of Justice. Recently, the US government has termed the atrocious treatment of Rohingyas by the Myanmar authorities as genocide. On the other hand, one of the bloodiest genocides in Congo by the Belgians has not yet been recognized, though during the recent Belgian King's Congo-visit, he expressed regrets for the misdeeds of his countrymen during the reign of his great grandfather, King Leopold. Analyzing all above cases of Genocides (there are many others, and the writer seeks apology for not being able to bring too many cases into consideration to reduce the length of the article) we may say that the time limit and success in raising the demand of recognition of genocides and redress varies a lot from case to case. But one thing is clear: such demands for justice are never time-barred. Together with recognition, come the issues of asking for formally apologizing for the crime of genocide, bringing in the perpetrators to justice, proper reparations and compensation to the victims. In the case of the 1971 genocide, the time, though late, has come to raise the issue boldly and strongly at all levels, be it National or International. Luckily, the ball has started rolling. We see light at the end of the tunnel.

In end-December/early January two leading International organizations working with genocide studies and prevention all over the world, namely, Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention and Genocide Watch have recognized the 1971 genocide targeting Bengalis and carried out by Pakistani authorities and their associates. In their statements, both the organizations have also advocated bringing the perpetrators to justice, compensation for the genocide victims and a host of measures to create example to prevent recurrence of such incidents. A scholar on genocide studies whose family is a genocide victim, Mr Tawheed Reza Noor was instrumental in working with the above-mentioned organizations in getting the recognition. Mr Shariar Kabir of Ghatak Dalal Nirmool Committee, renowned historian Prof Muntasir Mamun, Trustee of Liberation War Museum Mr Mofidul Huq, Director of DU Center for Genocide Studies, Prof Imtiaz Ahmed, renowned film makers Mr Tanvir Mokammel and Mr Kawser  Chowdhury, eminent writer and poet Syed Shamsul Huq and Dr Sarwar Ali of Center for Social and Cultural Studies and many other individuals and organizations in Bangladesh and abroad have been working relentlessly to highlight the 1971 Genocide and to achieve International Recognition for the same. It has been learnt that a third International organization namely International Coalition of sites of Conscience has also accorded its recognition recently. All these achievements encourage us to work in a more organized and coordinated way unitedly under a common umbrella to do more to reach our goal.

Diaspora organizations of Bangladeshis living abroad have also been conscious about the issue. Though there had not been much of concerted effort so far, we know of Bengalis living in the Netherlands, Germany, UK, USA, Finland, Canada, Switzerland, Belgium and many other countries working in this direction. They have been organizing meetings, seminars, demonstrations, human chains with posters, signature campaigns, etc. all to emphasize on the legitimacy of the demand and to muster support of and create awareness amongst citizens of other countries and of course, amongst new generation of Bangladeshis. Recently, a Netherlands-based Bangladeshi Diaspora organization BASUG, holding Special Consultative Status (ECOSOC) in the United Nations has submitted a statement to be discussed in the on-going 50th session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission at Geneva. The statement demands recognition of the 1971 Genocide carried on in Bangladesh by the scorched earth policy of the occupation military of Pakistan after Bangladesh's founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared Independence of our motherland in the face of Pakistani conspiracy of denying transfer of power to the legitimately elected political party in 1970 General Elections of Pakistan (Awami League). The statement also calls for trials of the criminals responsible for genocide, proper reparations for the victims and includes other related demands. The statement has been received and acknowledged by the Secretary General of UNHRC. The Chairman of BASUG Mr Bikash Chowdhury Barua, a Bangladeshi Dutch citizen takes keen interest in the overall development of his motherland and is particularly interested in the Recognition of 1971 Genocide issue. He, along with his other Bangladeshi European associates, is monitoring the issue continuously. He has informed that the statement comes under the purview of Agenda No 3 of the 50th UNHRC session. It may be raised and discussed in the session. As we understand, this is the first time ever in 51 years that a scope has come to raise this very important issue in the United Nations. But, to get it on the agenda for active consideration, a lot of efforts are to be made. Bangladesh Government has a pivotal role to play in this respect.

To set the stage for this very important issue to come into active consideration of the UN, a consultative meeting was recently convened by the Center for Genocide Studies of the Dhaka University. The meeting was chaired by the Vice Chancellor of the University and the Honorable Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Mr Shahriar Alam was the Chief Guest. Mr Mahbub Zaman of Aamra Ekattor (also the first GS of DUCSU after Independence of Bangladesh) acted as the anchor. The meeting was attended amongst others by Mr Mofidul Huq,  Mr Tanvir Mokammel, Mr Kawser Chowdhury, Mr Hilaluddin (ex- EUCSU GS), journalist Mr Ajoy Dasgupta, Prof Kajal Bandopadhay and other activists of the campaign. Prof Imtiaz Ahmed was of course the host. BASUG Chaiman Mr Bikash Chowdhury Barua and Dr Tawheed Reza Noor attended the meeting virtually. Mr Bikash Chowdhury Barua narrated the progress made so far by their organization in this respect and sought the assistance and leading role of the MOFA in pursuing the issue further in the UNHRC session. The Vice Chancellor of Dhaka University affirmed that the University will take a leading role in the campaign for International Recognition of the Genocide as the University itself was an epicenter of the Genocide. Dr Tawheed Reza Noor pointed out certain weaknesses in the statement, and suggested to strengthen the same. Other speakers also discussed various aspects of the preparatory process to raise the issue strongly and decisively in the UN and different other International bodies. The steps suggested included awareness- building inside the country, especially amongst the new generation, publication of booklets in different languages for spreading details of 1971 Genocide in other countries, making documentary films and other possible audio-visual materials to make the world aware of the atrocities committed during the Genocide, enactment of Genocide Denial Act in the country, organizing Genocide museum, preservation of Killing Fields, etc.

 The Honorable Minister assured the audience that our Government has firm determination in taking all possible actions to achieve the International Recognition of the 1971 Genocide. He emphasized that the Government will cooperate with the endeavors taken by the civil society in the campaign for the Recognition. All foreign missions of Bangladesh have been activated to remain pro-active in this field. Our Mission in Geneva has been instructed to work with BASUG to do emphasize discussion on 1971 Genocide issue in the current UNHRC session. He also disclosed that MOFA is organizing a seminar soon on Rohingya Genocide issue in London where 1971 Bangladesh Genocide issue will also be discussed. He assured that no stone will remain unturned to achieve our goal and he FC as the International Mother Languages Day by the UN as a result of a proposal which was first raised by a civil society organization. He concluded by thanking the organizers of the initiative.

  This is just the beginning of an arduous process. There perhaps is a long way ahead to go. All self-respecting patriotic Bangladeshis should rise to the occasion to demand the long-overdue international recognition of the 1971 Genocide on the population of emerging Bangladesh. A formal apology from Pakistan, bringing the perpetrators of the genocide to justice and proper compensation to the victims of genocide are the bare minimum to bring a closure to the issue. Mere utterance of the old proverb Forget and Forgive is not good enough to appease the sentiments of the victims. The sooner the closure comes, the better.

 

The writer is a columnist